Palliative care, or what we call Advanced Illness Management (AIM), is a crucial component of the continuum of care. It specializes in treating patients with long term illnesses, providing symptom relief to improve quality of life for both a patient and their family.
Pictured: VNA Advanced Illness Management patient, Henrietta.
However, this kind of treatment is often misunderstood. Most assume it’s reserved for patients nearing end of life, as a first step to hospice. But, this understanding can limit the opportunity to make a significant impact in patients’ lives. While hospice is indeed a part of end-of-life care, programs like AIM can be beneficial to those facing any kind of long-term and serious illness, not just illnesses that are terminal.
AIM focuses on helping individuals take control and maximize their care, whether the treatment takes place at home or in a long term facility. It is a holistic approach to medical care; our interdisciplinary team is made up of nurses, doctors, social workers, and chaplains to ensure that our patients are not just being treated for their physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs as well.
Pictured: VNA Advanced Illness Management patient, Mae.
One of our AIM patients, Mae, demonstrates just how beneficial the AIM program can be. Prior to to partnering with VNA, Mae had been hospitalized several times due to dehydration and was struggling to recover in between ER visits. Even though she was receiving adequate care at her long-term facility, it became apparent that Mae needed additional support.
“When she came back to the facility, she had lost some weight, her appetite was not good, and she wasn’t herself,” says Deb Jeffery, VNA’s Director of Advanced Illness Management. Jeffrey began caring for Mae when Mae enrolled in AIM. “We could tell that she could use some extra care.”
Mae’s daughter, Anita Wilder, also saw the benefit of bringing VNA onto Mae’s care team. Wilder runs the Adult Visionary In-Home Services, an organization which helps connect elderly patients with long-term care, so she was familiar with VNA’s AIM program.
“I know how [AIM] works and how beneficial it is for patients,” says Wilder. “They are a great resource for the community, which made me more eager to have them involved with my mother. When she was selected to participate, I was ecstatic.”
Once the VNA team began working with Mae, she was able to receive consistent and intentional care and saw significant improvements in her health. Her hospitalizations stopped, she gained back the lost weight, and was able to find the right medication combination to best manage her symptoms.
But beyond the health benefits Mae was experiencing, there was also significant emotional improvement.
“My mother has an outgoing personality and she commands attention,” says Wilder. “So, in addition to providing medical services, they also attend to her personality needs.. And in doing that, they’re involving her in the social activity she needs.”
Jeffrey agrees that a substantial component of the AIM program is the benefits that go beyond just the physical needs. “The program helps people not just physically with intentional health care, but also through the personal interactions,” she says. “We have a lot of things available to ensure that people, like Mae, are not isolated and they don’t lose who they are as they age.”
“The extra attention that the AIM program and the staff gives my mother is assuring to her that she’s valued,” Wilder explains. “It affirms her, and it makes a significant difference in her life.”
Experienced outcomes, like Mae’s, from AIM prove that the program is a crucial part in the continuum of care. Beyond assisting patients with symptom management, our team is able to include emotional, psychological, and spiritual health into an individual’s care plan. More importantly, we support patients and their families through the journey of long-term illness, counseling them through big decisions about health care, addressing additional needs as they arise, and simply providing an extra level of support.
“AIM goes a little bit above and beyond the level of care that my mom’s nursing home provides,” Wilder concludes. “And that is what makes the difference for her.”